- Thailand, and its food, are a riot for the senses. Bold flavors abound, and that means there are endless ways to get your taste buds excited with this food. Thailand is another example of an extremely regional cuisine: Northern Thai food, influenced by its Muslim neighbors, looks much different than the hot and spicy foods found on the islands in Southern Thailand. Thailand is a unique example of an Asian country without a history of colonization. In some ways, this means that cultural influences in Thai food flow a little more easily.
- Food is paramount to community in Thailand. A common first greeting would be, “Have you eaten?” It’s also considered bad luck to eat alone, reinforcing the idea that food is meant to be shared and loved together. There is always food nearby at any sort of gathering in Thailand, and luckily, wherever you are, most of it is pretty damn good.
- Flavors are big in Thailand. You would be hard pressed to find a food in the country that one could describe as bland. While the flavors in Thai food are rich and intense, they don’t overwhelm the palate because Thai cuisine specializes in balancing of flavor. This means a lot of salt, a lot of heat- and a lot of sugar. Westerners might be more used to having hidden sugar in their food (hello, junk food!), so can be surprised at the presence of a sugar shaker on the table like we have salt and pepper. Sugar can temper heat, mellow bitterness, and sharpen flavors, similar to salt.
This spotlight might be cheating, as it involves plenty of ingredients, but the first step to understanding Thai food is understanding the base of many well-loved dishes: curry paste. Each family has their own delicate ratio and process for creating this flavorful mash that offers its distinctive complexity to every dish. Usually comprised of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, and plenty of chiles, this mixture is pounded in a mortar and pestle until smooth and pulpy. Way more than just curry, this paste is used in noodle dishes, soups and stir-fries– just don’t ask a home cook for their exact ratio.
STEP AWAYYY FROM THE RESTAURANT:
Thailand has some incredible restaurants, of course, but the magic of this abundant scene is that you could eat incredibly well for weeks without stepping into a brick-and-mortar location. The country is a street-food lover’s dream. Stalls and carts pop up everywhere, offering a variety of delights on every street corner. More concentrated markets are easy to locate, as well, particularly in larger cities and tourist areas. The line between street food and sit-down dining can blur– there are often stools to perch on, or you can keep walking with your find. Make sure you keep an eye out for the next great snack.
BRING IT HOME:
Pad See Ew
This recipe was inspired by Thai culinary extraordinaire Leela Punyaratabandhu. Her blog, She Simmers, has opened up an expansive view of Thai cooking for western audiences. Check out her beautiful work here.
Everyone knows pad thai, but pad see ew is easier to find in Thailand itself, and in our opinion, offers much more depth of flavor. This is fast food at its finest: a little funky, a little greasy, but still fresh and light.
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
5 tbs. soy sauce, divided
1 tbs. cornstarch
5 tbs. vegetable oil, divided
1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
2 eggs, beaten
1 12-oz package wide rice noodles
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped.
4 tbs. sweet soy sauce (found in Asian markets)
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
Combine chicken with soy sauce and cornstarch in medium bowl, let stand while preparing other ingredients. Place a large saucepan of water over high heat and let come to a boil. Add rice noodles to water, stirring occasionally. Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes, and drain in colander. Toss with 1 tbs. vegetable oil and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tbs. vegetable oil. Add broccoli and cook until tender and starting to brown in some spots; transfer broccoli to medium bowl. Pour eggs into skillet and let cook until just starting to set. Scramble lightly until eggs are dry but still in large curds. Transfer eggs to bowl with broccoli. Add remaining 2 tbs. oil to skillet. Add garlic and stir until fragrant and just starting to brown. Add sweet soy sauce and fish sauce and stir. Add eggs, broccoli and noodles to skillet and toss gently until combined. Serve immediately.